America needs to play catch-up in teaching second languages
by Carol PeckIt's not just in the Olympics that China is presenting real competition for our country. More than 110 million Chinese children are studying English, but only 50,000 students in U.S. schools are learning Chinese.
Research shows that the best time to learn a foreign language in order to speak like a native is before 8 years of age.
This is reflected in most other countries where a second language is taught at an early age.
To be competitive in a global economy, graduates must leave school with a firm grasp of the three R's, high-tech experience and an understanding of different languages and cultures. Our country's workforce of tomorrow will be significantly strengthened if schools offer several foreign languages to students at an early age.
The Alhambra School District is leading the way by providing each first- through third-grader with 15 minutes of Spanish-language instruction every day.
At Desert Willow Elementary School in the Cave Creek Unified School District, a partial Spanish immersion program for English speakers is in its sixth year.
There is also a full-immersion environment for 3- to 5-year-olds on the Desert Willow campus.
Students at Phoenix Country Day School, a private school in Paradise Valley, learn Spanish through fifth grade; explore Latin, Greek, Mandarin and French in sixth grade; then choose a language to study for two more years.
"Studies show that students who have studied Latin for at least two years score 200-300 points higher on SAT and GRE college exams," said Barb McCarthy, teacher at Desert Horizon School, where Latin is offered to some seventh- and eighth-graders.
The biggest challenge is finding people who can teach foreign languages effectively.
In addition, schools under pressure to improve student achievement in math and reading find it difficult to carve out time to teach the classes as well as to secure the funding to hire qualified teachers.
Teaching a second language should not compete for the precious minutes of the school day.
Offering after-school programs or lengthening the school day are valid options to ensure all elementary school students have an opportunity to learn a second language.
If you know of schools that are implementing foreign-language programs, share it on my blog at azcentral.com/members/Blog /DrPeck.
Carol Peck is president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. Her columns appear every other Sunday. Post your questions and comments on her blog at azcentral.com/members/Blog/DrPeck or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Rodel Foundation-AZ website at www.rodelaz.org.